Film Review: MR. GAGA (Israel/Sweden/Germany/Netherlands 2015) ***

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mrgaga.jpgDirected by Tomer Heymann

Review by Gilbert Seah

Timing is everything. MR. GAGA documentary about bad boy dance choreographer, Ohad Naharin is being released just a few weeks (though made earlier) after a similar documentary about another bad boy dance choreographer. The first doc called DANCER follows the troubled life of now 37-year old Sergei Polunin, acclaimed as ‘the most naturally gifted male ballet dancer of his generation’. Both films follow the same outline. They trace the influences (Ohad, dancing when young as a boy in the kibbutz) and childhood of the dancers, their troubles (marriage and choreograph methods), there talent and their rise to fame together with lots of footage of dance performances. Hopefully, MR. GAGA can still attract audiences after they have seen DANCER.

Ohad Naharin is the Israeli choreographer who’s revolutionized modern dance, even although he himself didn’t begin formal dance training until age 22. Now in his mid-60s, Naharin has headed up Tel Aviv’s famed Batsheva Dance Group since 1990, creating pieces and training dancers with “gaga” – a dance language he invented, whereby dancers feel the sensation of movement. In 1998, Naharin rebelled against censorship when he withdrew Batsheva from Israel’s 50th anniversary gala after organizers – bowing to pressure from religious groups – insisted he clothe his dancers more modestly.

The dance performances are well tracked and form the most interesting segment of the film – even f one is not an avid dance fan. Excerpts include:
2013 – The Hole
2015 – The Last Word
2003 – Mqnootoot
2011 – Sadeh (three times)
2005 – Three, the most homo-erotic, in that order.

The performances are put into perspective of the dance’s life, making them more relevant in the film.

As expected, the best insight into Ohad’s personality is provided by the dancers under his charge. They claim him to be ‘so strong’ and ‘so intense’. His intimidation can be seen when he tells them during their performances not to f*** it up, as it is his life. He would use words like: “Don’t f*** with me,” and “You are boring me”. These only goes to show that talent can never be substituted for hostility not matter how talented the antagonist is. There is no interview with his wife. It would have been even more interesting to know what living hell living with this man might have been. Director Heymann allows Ohad to have his say as well. Ohad claims that he is able to get the most of of his dancers. A former dancer recalls that everyday someone would leave the studio either yelling or crying.
Judging from most of his choreography, Ohad has a lot of aggression in him. His moves are fierce and hard and often include movements like falling and hammering. As expected, the genius and spoilt boy behaviour is incorporated in the same one person – in Ohad.

But Heymann keeps the audience on track with Ohad’s likability. If the audience hates the subject, it usually follows them hating the film. When the Government forces Ohad’s dance to wear leotards instead of their original skimpy outfits, he announces the change of costume to his dance troupe and subsequently resigns. This causes massive protests in the country. His wife and true love also dies of cancer and Heymann shows the power of dance to heal through Ohad,

The film is shot in English and Hebrew.



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